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Under Her Eye review: You Were Never Really Here

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Read the shortlisted Under Her Eye reviews then vote for your favourite.

As part of Stylist’s Under Her Eye initiative, we’re on the hunt for three new female film critics. We asked aspiring reviewers to send in a 450-word review of their favourite film – and after an overwhelming response, we’ve whittled it down to a shortlist of 20. 

Read one woman’s review of  You Were Never Really Here below and click here to see the other entries and vote for your favourite.

Picture this: you want an escape. It’s Wednesday and you’re in the mood for a run-of-the mill vanilla thrill that hits the beats like clockwork. It must preclude stressful themes and dizzying cinematography - life’s stressful enough as it is, right? Wrong. I didn’t breathe when I saw it but my favourite film is You Were Never Really Here (2017) and I’m here to tell you: you are worth it.

Those that know Lynne Ramsay’s work might have been warned. Even before her commercial breakthrough with We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), the Scottish director made her name as an uncompromising talent in indie cinema that dealt adult themes to young, fresh actors.

Joaquin Phoenix embodies the role of Joe, a suicidal hitman that rescues trafficked girls. Despite coming from different worlds, Ramsay and Phoenix are in synergy and he’s fully committed, as always. Joe is black mass, sinew, a thick beard under a hood; impenetrable from the outside world. Luckily, Ramsay takes us behind the veil. We spend the film inside his head - a creative decision that stays true to its source material, a novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames. We see him care for his elderly mother in his childhood home in New York City - the same man who stares longingly at train tracks and drops the knife just before he moves his foot.

It’s a tightly wound fever dream from start to finish that carries these themes seamlessly. Joe accepts a job: a New York State Senator wants him to rescue his abducted daughter from a brothel. He takes a hammer, a brutal choice that marks him as physically capable but an analogue man struggling to cope with the twisted evil he uncovers on the way. We wait for this tightrope to snap but it remains desperately taut till the end.

This is a testament to Ramsay’s attention to detail: she emailed Phoenix an MP3 file of fireworks in production as a representation of what Joe hears all the time, denoting PTSD from childhood trauma and his service as a soldier. These clues bleed onto the screen. A scene in a cafe makes uncomfortable viewing as we hear all the nearby conversations he can’t tune out. Cut together with music composed by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, this is lightning in a bottle.

This film feels timely: a scarred anti-hero, a stoic young girl and a dark underbelly at the height of politics. There’s been much talk about it’s closest comparison, Taxi Driver, but I don’t see a vigilante seeking purpose. Joe knows what he wants, and he wants to heal.

My advice is dive in: you’ve never seen anything like this in your life.

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